North America’s biggest ski resort company has committed to outfitting its ski patrol operations with avalanche airbags.
Vail Resorts Management, Co. has made an initial purchase of 30 Float 32 avalanche airbags from BCA (Backcountry Access). The airbags will be provided to its snow safety teams at Vail, Beaver Creek, and Keystone, with potentially more for Breckenridge. Vail also owns Kirkwood Resort, which owns a fleet of 40 BCA Float 30 airbags.
Beaver Creek assistant patrol director Adam Borg shows off his Fleet of 9 Float 32 airbags (and 2 Float 36).
Vail Resorts is the largest resort operator in North America, operating Vail, Breck, Keystone, Kirkwood, and Heavenly. Vail and Breckenridge are the #1 and #2 most visited ski resorts in the US. Most of the expert terrain at these resorts requires avalanche control by the resorts’ snow safety teams.
When the nation’s top resort operator outfits its patrollers with airbags, this sets a huge precedent. You better believe the rest of the industry will follow. It also makes a strong statement about Vail’s progressive stance on safety: the company was also one of the first patrols to require the use of helmets by all on-snow staff.
Vail is smart to get ahead of the curve on this one. Several years ago a patroller at Sainte Foy en Tarentaise, France was killed in an avalanche on the job while doing avalanche control work. His family sued the resort because they didn’t provide him with an airbag, which is considered standard equipment nowadays in France. The family won their suit in 2008 and the resort paid them a tidy sum. And France isn’t nearly as lawsuit-happy as the U.S. More recently, WorkSafe BC (the Canadian equivalent of OSHA) has recommended airbags for use by guides and others at work in avalanche terrain.
So the standards are being set, at least in other countries. It’s great to see the Vail Resorts crew setting the trends on the Lower 48.